13 quirky tech conferences to check out this year

Get your travel agent on speed dial. These small conferences could be just what the career doctor ordered.


In the past month, you could have gone to one of the mega tech conferences in Vegas for Symantec, IBM and CA, just to name a few. But what if you want to learn new skills or meet people closer to home or in some more interesting locales?

I have picked a few of the more promising and smaller shows that appeal to developers or the more technically-minded for the coming months. These are more training-focused, where learning is more important than seeing another marketing PowerPoint slide deck.

They're listed in rough chronological order so you can flip along in your calendar.

See also: Wicked cool things to do in Las Vegas – after the tradeshow

This slideshow originally appeared on ITworld.  

Voice Biometrics
Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco
May 8-9 (Better hurry)

Looking to learn more about the latest in two factor authentication technologies from the vendors who are developing new voice recognition technologies? Then this might be for you. Dan Miller, an analyst with Opus Research, is the organizer.

While you're there: Just down the hill from the hotel (via cable car, if you don’t want to walk back) are dozens of dim sum restaurants along Grant St. in Chinatown. Bet you can’t eat just one plate of dumplings!

Drupal Camp
Austin Tex. Convention Center
June 21

Missed SxSW and still want to get involved in Austin's tech world? Want to learn more about Drupal? This might be the place. Plus, you can actually get a room in downtown Austin, unlike during SxSW. (And if the times aren’t convenient, there are other Drupal conferences in Portland and Iowa this summer too.)

While you're there: Downtown Austin’s 6th Street is a music mecca that almost rivals Nashville for its talent and variety.

Hack in Paris
Disneyland Paris Hotel
June 17-21

This five day event will examine forensics, malware analysis, and corporate hacking techniques, and what could be better, it is held at the Euro Disney conference center outside of Paris. It has attracted a stellar lineup of speakers and promises to be a very technical event with heavy emphasis on training. This is its second year.

While you're there: If you can tear yourself away from the rides, there are so many places to see in Paris, but one of my favorites is the original haunt of Gertrude Stein and the English-language Shakespeare & Co bookstore.

Blaisdell Center, Honolulu, Hawaii
June 25-28

Okay, so Paris may not be your cup of café. Who doesn’t want to go to Hawaii? The fifth year that this "laid back security conference in paradise" is being held. Some solid presentations and training on malware analysis and penetration testing. After all, what could be better than “sun, surf, and C Shells?” There are intensive training classes on hacking mobile apps and even lock picking (the set of tools is included in the class registration).

While you're there: The Arizona Memorial sitting right where it sank in Pearl Harbor just a cab or bus ride across town.

Fairmont Hotel, San Jose, CA
June 24-28

Usenix is one of the largest open source gatherings, and this year there are simultaneous conferences held on cloud computing, autonomic systems, women in computing, and self organizing systems, among others, all happening at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Jose, what they call “Federated Conferences Week.”

While you're there: There are so many places to visit nearby, but my favorite is The Tech, which is a great hands-on collection of the various innovations that happened in Silicon Valley, just a few blocks from the Fairmont. 

O'Reilly osCon
Portland Oregon Convention Center
July 22-26

Another open systems conference run by O'Reilly, this in its 15th year. You can hear the leading lights of key technologies in the keynotes (such as the CTO of Github and the CEO of Canonical), and learn from the experts, many of whom have written the definitive books for O'Reilly too on such topics as Linux, MySQL,Perl, Python, Ruby on Rails, and cloud computing.

While you're there: A short walk down 2nd Street will pass numerous microbreweries and trendy shops and restaurants. If you are a bookstore fan, Powell’s (which covers several blocks) is not to be missed, across the river via transit along with the rest of downtown Portland.

Univesity of Tenn. at Knoxville
July 12-13

A great lineup of leading developers from both local and international sources that promises to be a solid learning experience. A combination of unconference and planned sessions that is marketing and hype-free. The keynote speaker is Julie Lerman who teaches .Net framework classes around the world, but the sessions cover a wide range of other programming topics and languages.

While you're there: Check out the free McClung history museum on the UT campus.

UX Pros Assn
Washington DC Hilton
July 9-12

If you are involved in user experience software issues, this annual four day conference put on by the UX Professionals Association is the place to be. It will be a small gathering, with only 200 seats, but it is where leading UX luminaries come to trade tips, talk about cutting edge research methods on usability testing and present several full-day tutorials too.

While you're there: There are so many great places in DC to visit, but one of my favorites is the International Spy Museum, where you can see the original Bletchley Park “Bombe” and other relics from the cold war, along with one of the James Bond Aston Martins.

DeVos Place Convention Center, Grand Rapids Michigan
Sept 12-13

Another hacker conference, this time in Michigan. The schedule looks to be bawdy, brash and anything but dull, with hackers promising to “pwn” you before you leave town. There are also sessions on penetration testing tools and mobile hacking methods.

While you're there: Just a short walk away is the Meyer May House, a prairie style home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that is open to the public. If you have never been in any of his homes they are worth the time to see the scope of his architectural vision and how everything fits together.

The StrangeLoop
Peabody Opera Hotel St Louis
September 18-20

I have attended this small but very technical conference for the past several years and I never fail to learn something new. The organizer is a developer who knows how to cherry pick the best techies who are doing cutting edge software development projects. There is a pre-conference day where you can dive deep into emerging software languages too.

While you're there: The venue is a restored opera house in downtown St. Louis, and while you can visit the famous Arch the other place you don’t want to miss is the City Museum which isn’t an art museum but more of an adult playground.

Portland Public Library, Portland, Maine
Oct 4-5

How many conferences can you name that combine beer and open source coding? The schedule isn't set but this should be on your radar. Put on by the Red Monk analysts every year. It isn’t another social media conference but a chance to dive deep into coding and explore cutting edge issues. The conference isn’t just about code, but features sessions on serious beer tasting too (hence the name).

While you're there: The library venue is a good place to explore Portland's historic Old Port with tons of shops and restaurants (there are local recommendations on the conference website) nearby. Also worth visiting is Wadwsworth-Longfellow House museum.

Marriott Marquis Hotel, Times Square NYC
Nov 18-21

OWASP.org is my go-to place to learn more about Web technologies and Web app security exploits, and has been collecting a great deal of online content over the years. This conference should be interesting with major themes of forensics and applications security. The schedule is not yet set but you should put a placeholder here. (Note: You can save a bundle if you register before May 15.)

While you're there: Just walking around Times Square might be enough, but if you want to get more adventurous, there is the new Museum of Math, located conveniently across the street from the Museum of Sex. Only in the Big Apple!

To consider for next year...

Pittsburgh Tech Fest
LaRoche College
June 1

This unconference is sold out so you'll need to get on the waitlist, but you should take a look at the talent that they have brought together, to see what is happening in Pittsburgh's active software scene. The keynote speaker is Dick Wall, a veteran software engineer from numerous startups who runs his own Scala business. There are sessions for Java, .Net and for agile and open source developers.

While you're there: Nothing is within walking distance, but if you have a car, check out the Oakland neighborhood, next door to Carnegie Mellon University.